Buying the farm

Updates have been light around here lately. There’s a reason for that.

What have we been up to?

Experimenting with more no-knead bread. This one is half white, half-wheat. Very tasty.

Making more cinnamon-raisin bread.

Whipping up some balsamic chicken with a creamy herb sauce and having some corn from last year’s farmer’s market haul.

Braising some short ribs, making gravy, and serving alongside a potato hashbrown pie with onions and three cheeses (parmiggiano, romano, asiago).

Oh, and looking at houses.

When we realized last year that we would not be buying the house we currently occupy, we began our quest for new digs.

We’ve looked at 100 or so houses and properties online. Probably drove by or walked through two dozen. Made an offer on two, only to have the sellers not understand that we were not going to pay an extra 20K or so over what the actual appraisal was and that it is not a seller’s market right now. Found a great piece of land, but with a nutso realtor on the other side.

And so last Thursday, we made the rounds again. Another five houses to add to our viewed list. One we crossed off immediately: too small. Another we crossed off because of the huge pond taking up almost the entire back part of the property. The third had possibilities, but no pool and a tiny kitchen: scratch that one. The fourth, quite nice: large screened in pool area, a huge florida room with windows, about two acres. The last one, though…the last one was the one we wanted. And we made an offer. The seller – who apparently has missed the memo that it isn’t exactly a seller’s market – came back with a counter. We met up in the middle, and everything looked good. Until the owner, having set a deadline of 4 PM Monday, wasn’t available to answer some questions or engage in some negotiation about a couple of items.

So, that deal is off. I’d like to tell him that intentionally making it difficult for people to buy what you’re selling results in no sales. Doesn’t matter if it’s real estate, web hosting, or groceries: if you’re an asshole, you’re not going to be selling much of anything.

Back to the drawing board. We found another property right off the bat (of course, since there are tons of things for sale). No pool, but a nice, dry, square lot, not in a flood zone, in an area where there is unlikely to be further development, just under three acres, where we could put in our own (enclosed) pool, build a sunroom on the back if we wanted, have a great sized garden, and have enough room for the dogs to roam.

Maybe the fourth time will be the charm.

Year of the Pig

There was no conscious thought about the Chinese New Year when I was planning last night’s dinner, so although it may seem like I’m completely on the ball and up with other cultures, really it was just a happy coincidence that we had pork on the menu. I have lamented the breeding of leaner and leaner pigs, which results in pork of little to no taste. Soon, it will taste just like (white meat) chicken. But there are still ways around that.

We had a couple of handsome, furry guys hanging around with us.

Their motives, though, revolved only around the possibility of getting a handout.

Pork medallions with honey and ginger.

I sliced a pork tenderloin into medallions about a quarter inch thick, then tossed them into a marinade with soy, mirin, honey, sesame oil, some fresh minced ginger, and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes. After about an hour, I stir fried them with some thinly sliced leeks and carrots, and we had some steamed broccoli and two kinds of rice to go along with it. No doughnuts this time, I’m afraid.

Wednesday night will be tempura night. Who knew the people around here would be such fans?

Here’s your heart

There are some days when you’re just convinced that the world is full of asshats. The worst is when one of those people manage to fuck up your evening by being total douchebags. I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but some days it gets to me more than others – when all the cosmic shit going on happens to align just so.

Today did not start as one of those days, but it surely did wind up being one. I still cooked, though.

After putting together the dough for the doughnuts – and more about that fiasco later – I started prepping everything that could be done before the time for dinner actually arrived. One of those things was the assembly of the shrimp cocktails.

I also boiled some shrimp with Old Bay and set aside some to marinate. The latter were sauteed as we were sitting down. Much of cooking for a crowd means getting everything to the table at the same time. This is no easy task if you’re an idiot and completely forget about the asparagus, thus holding everything else and thus letting people start in on the shrimp before everything is ready. But since that was minor and asparagus doesn’t take all that long to cook (nor did the sauce), it wasn’t too bad.

Broiled lobster tails, shrimp three ways with cocktail sauce, ginger dipping sauce, rice pilaf with sundried tomatoes, parmesan, and almonds, and asparagus with a mustard-lemon nappe.

After everyone had eaten all of the food – a bit of the rice was all that was left – it was time for doughnuts. The first batch of dough sucked and I tossed it in the trash, where one of the dogs prompty stuck his snoot in and grabbed a piece, swallowing it down before I could get a word out. Fortunately, while I was kneading the first batch, I realized that it would indeed suck and that a backup batch was in order. I had run out to the store to pick up a couple of things, and picked up some fresh flour as well. It made a world of difference. I knew the flour I’ve been bitching about since we got it was to blame for the bready misfortunes I had been encountering.

The dough had gone through the first rise, was rolled out, and went through the second rise.

While they were resting, I put together the glaze, the ganache, and got the oil heated. Now, most places say 350 for the oil, but I’m convinced that a slightly lower temperature is in order, especially seeing how brown some of the pieces got while frying compared to the lighter, doughnutty color we’re all used to when the oil had cooled a bit. Not that it mattered all that much, since it’s hard not to like fried dough. The Boy handled the glazing duties.

Other people volunteered to handle the sampling duties. Sometimes they go a little crazy while doing that very dangerous, thankless job.

Some had to wait a little longer for their tastes, relying on other species with opposable thumbs to bestow their samples.

The doughnuts turned out very well indeed.

The scraps from the first cutting I kneaded back together, then rolled out and formed into crullers, churros, and vague blobs of doughy things.

I think people were happy.

After all, what’s not to like about doughnuts?

How do I love thee?

I’ve never been a huge fan of Valentine’s Day – in fact, I only realized that today was Valentine’s Day after my sister’s boyfriend invited her out for dinner, reminding her that it was. I’ve always consider today to be one of those made up holidays, designed to benefit the coffers of greeting card and candy manufacturers. That cynicism is probably why I’ve been dumped a couple of times, but I’d like to think that I did nice, sweet things for my mates during our time together that were outside the bounds of some scheduled holiday.

That said, since I did realize it was the holiday, and since I do have loved ones for whom to cook – platonic and familial though that love may be – I thought a dressed-up menu would be in order. With the exception of my vegetarian sister, we all love seafood. Here’s tonight’s plan.

Classic shrimp cocktail
Boiled shrimp with Old Bay
Asian-flavored sauteed shrimp (marinated in soy, honey, mirin, ginger)
Broiled lobster tails with a ginger dipping sauce on the side
Asparagus with a mustard nappe
Sundried tomato and almond rice pilaf

And, as I mentioned to Stacy, a rather bourgeois dessert to follow up that menu: doughnuts, by request.

There will be pictures, oh yes. But now, it’s time to start getting things going.

Mid-winter reruns

Since some people were out of town last week for my aunt’s birthday party, we had to have an encore of food. Ribs, to be specific about it all. The changes I’ve made to the brining time and the rub are working out quite well.

If my sister were eating meat again, this would have been her gnawing away on some ribs. As it is, she was tempted by the sweet smell of pork, but refrained from eating any.

The rest of us, though, under no such constraints, dove in to this.

And some zucchini gratin, made with a combination of jarlsberg, pecorino romano, and manchego.

With beans and a salad, it was a full meal. We sent some of the ribs home with a couple of lucky diners, and the rest are being eaten here and there by us. They’re not going to last long at this rate.

With dinner out of the way, it was time for conversation and playtime. Newton finally scored the hamburger squeaky toy (which, alas, no longer squeaks, since Mickey has chewed it so much).

Tim, the ex-wrestler, took on Mickey. The poor pup was so tired by the time it was all over and everyone left that he could barely keep his eyes open.

Another successful dinner with good company. Now if only the house stalking…I mean, house hunting was as fun and satisfying as this.

Wednesday is doughnut experiment day around here. I had a request from someone who shall remain unnamed for doughnuts, like Krispy Kreme makes: yeasty, glazed, warm circles of carby goodness. We’ll see how that turns out, since I’ve never made a doughnut in my life. And I suppose we’ll have to have dinner as well – I considered pasta, but then thought that might be a little too much carb-loading for one night. Only one more day to figure it out…

Defenders of the home front

Sometimes, you just can’t help yourself. You might start off small, never intending for things to escalate. and then, before you know it, you have a full-on episode.

Take the humble strawberry. Or, rather, take a humble strawberry. Like this one.

Simple enough. A test of chocolate dipping in a semisweet ganache. Nothing more. But then, quite suddenly, there are more.

And even more, lined up like soldiers.

The supporting troops arrive shortly thereafter.

It’s all fun and games until the chocolate takes over the world, isn’t it?

And just like that, we’re cooking again

What’s the next natural step after having a feeding tube removed?

Why, rustle up some dinner the next night. Comfort food: roasted chicken, mashed potatoes (with heavy cream and real butter), peas, and pan gravy from the drippings.

I always hear people say how difficult it is to make gravy. Never found it to be so, myself.

My sister, the vegetarian, had some of the potatoes – with A1 sauce dumped on them. To me, that sounds like a recipe for nastiness, but she’s also been known to eat A1 right out of a bowl, so there’s no figuring peoples’ tastes. The Boy had some of my homemade barbeque sauce on the chicken, thus negating the lemon-rosemary taste, I expect. Still, as long as they’re eating. Mom and I had the pure, unadulterated dinner plates.

And cappuccino afterward.

I’m hoping to be able to find some clams tomorrow, to make up another batch of chowder. Sunday? Rib day, again. Somewhere in there, I’ll be making some tortilla soup – my sister, ever the impulsive type, happened to see someone eating that on a show, and asked, “Where’s my tortilla soup?”

“Right up here,” I said, and pointed to my noggin. Her’s, of course, will be sans chicken, although I suppose some of her faux chicken could be tossed into it. There’s a riddle for us all: this is a girl who never liked foods being mixed together: no meat in her salads, for instance, no meat in her soups. But if it isn’t really meat, does that make the rules different? It’s a conundrum.

Super Sunday

Superbowl Sunday is a bona fide holiday around here: the championship game (which we always hope will be good and not a blowout) and also the true end of the football season (a sad thing indeed).

The broccoli gratin, having been eaten to the point of people scraping the last traces of cheese from the dish, had to be recreated for Sunday. Even with a smaller group, it didn’t last. Neither did the guacamole I’d made.

I also ordered some dashi and it arrived in time for Sunday’s bash.

This made a world of difference in the tempura dipping sauce, which was spot on. I made a lot of tempura, and by the end of the night, only a lonely green bean remained, having hidden itself under a tray.

A few hours before the game, I had gone to the store to pick up a few things, and decided that there was time for some braised short ribs. Got them browned, then sauteed some onions and garlic in the same pan, added some red wine, beef broth, spices, and a couple teaspoons of tomato paste, threw the ribs back in, and about two and a half hours later, had this.

Boy, were those good. I’ve been eating the couple that were left over for the past two days, with sauteed zucchini, mushrooms, and onions. It’s just as good now as it was Sunday, but I’m down to the last of it. Might be time to make more.

Every day’s a birthday

Saturday night, my uncle said he’d never appeared on the blog. I told him he’d be first up with the next update. Here he is, hanging out by the ribs.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.

The Boy turned 21 the other day. When he was growing up, we thought he might never make it that far.

Since it was his birthday, he got to request the dinner menu. Kebabs, he said, and some corn to go with it. We went with that.

I made bread earlier that day, adjusting the recipe so the dough was a bit firmer than the last time. I also rolled it out a bit more thickly than the last time, trying to keep the raisins contained and the dough from splitting

The final proofing.

Much better than the last time.

All four loaves went into the oven, and came out about an hour later, nicely browned and with the hollow thunk that means they’re ready.

Very pretty. I could pick around the raisins and try the bread, but that seems like a lot of work (and bread’s a hard food for me to eat anyway), so I’ve yet to actually taste the bread.

That evening, we had the kebabs. The original plan was to grill them, but Mother Nature decided to give us some winter rain, so they went under the broiler instead. They turned out well.

My aunt also had a birthday this week. Her party – her 29th birthday! – was Saturday.

Way back at the 4th of July party at her house, she’d suggested ribs and shrimp for the party. Since this party was going to be fairly large, we picked up 27 pounds of ribs – six slabs. I brined those for about ten hours, then rubbed them about an hour before putting them on the smoker. Four and a half hours later, the ribs were juicy, smoky, and ready for gnawing.

I carved them into manageable pieces, put out a bottle of homemade barbeque sauce that I’d made the night before…

…and we were set.

There is more to life than smoked ribs, hard as that is to believe. We also had a broccoli gratin.

This disappeared very quickly.

Cole slaw, scratch from the vegetables to the dressing.

We also had shrimp and various munchies. I’d also made a chickpea salad and hummus, and at the last minute decided to make some bread and butter pickles, which you can see peeking in at the bottom.

The slaw, assorted crudites with fresh dip, and nuts to snack on.

No birthday is complete without a cake – carrot cake, requested by my aunt and made by my mom.

And no birthday cake is complete without candles…

…which then have to be lit.

Eventually, the fire is put out.

And then, it’s time for the goodies. This is just a sampling.

Let the games begin!

A lot of people showed up for this fiesta.

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